To 161 Battery
|Establishing the Gun Position at Nui Dat
June - July 1966
I was GPO for the move to Nui Dat, and on arrival I was responsible for deploying the guns in a temporary position on the brigade's south-west perimeter, the first time the bty had been this exposed since Korea, according to our BC, Don Kenning, and we had to look after our own defence. There was a period of alarm when a newly arrived gunner-alcoholic, suffering drying out and the DTs, suddenly decided to dive into the steep gully that ran along our flank. We could hear him yelling and having something of a fit. Terry Hughes was his gun sergeant, and volunteered to take a party down to retrieve him, and did so smartly. But the BC wasn’t happy: ‘There could have been VC down there, you should have shot the bastard!’ was his snarled advice. Yeah. But I never thought he meant it - a chance meeting with VC had to be preferable to the paperwork.
In a second more minor incident, the BC suggested this would be a good time to fire the guns against bamboo to see what effect shell-burst had on it, another first, and we were given permission to do so - 'testing local defences'. No plotting, just line of sight. We fired and observed several rounds. Some of the men had gathered to watch, standing on and around the sandbagged edge of the CP, a temporary hole in the ground. They began to mutter about hearing the buzz and whine of shrapnel coming back past us and several of the sergeants recommended I stop firing. (I heard none of the shrap, but that's another story.) Some of them moved to cover, wisely, as it turned out. ‘One more round’, says I, and away it went. Bill Godfrey, standing next to me, was slashed across the top of his boot and earned a trip home from that last round. And the Aus bty CP phoned over to ask if we would stop peppering them with shrapnel - please?- as it was making holes in their Landrover canopy. (We were between them and the target, so they were beyond the skip distance.) The bamboo probably suffered less than Bill or the Aus CP.
We relocated to the permanent gun base across the road to the east, and I laid out the guns as an X, one gun at each of the five points, the middle gun officially being the ‘spare’ for our four gun bty. When a sixth gun arrived, I thought, it could be placed left or right of the X to create a more conventional layout. No-one was really happy with the way I’d done this, the common complaint being that the guns would always have overhead fire. True, whichever way you look at it, when targets were anywhere around an arc that went the whole 360 degrees. Never figured out how it could be avoided with any layout.
|Nui Dat||One of several small hills with the same name in Phuoc Tuy Province. The name meant 'Our Hill'. This one and its surrounding flat land was occupied by the combined NZ/Australian force, '1st Australian/NZ Task Force' (1ATF). The force area was known to its men as 'Nui Dat' or 'The Dat'.|
|GPO||Gun Position Officer. A lieutenant or captain responsible for a battery's technical tasks and for operating the battery command post.|
|BC||Battery Commander. Normally a major for New Zealand gun batteries.|
|bty||Abbreviation for 'battery'. A grouping of men and guns capable of engaging effectively one area target at a time.|
|DTs||Delirium Tremens - a medical condition usually caused by over-indulgence in alcohol.|
|VC||Viet Cong. The VC were actually locally recruited Vietnamese who fought for the Communist enemy. In its broadest usage, VC was taken to include all enemy encountered in the war, including Viet Minh and other North Vietnamese regular forces.|
|CP||Command Post. Technical centre for a gun battery. All fire missions are ordered from the CP.|
|shrapnel||Generic term often used to refer to shell fragments.|
|Aus or Aust||Australian|
|skip distance||Distance between the first and second touchdown points for a fragment or projectile bouncing along its trajectory.|
|overhead fire||It is highly unpleasant to have a gun close behind you, shooting over your head. You suffer from muzzle blast, and the slight but ever-present risk of a high explosive round detonating on top of you because of, e.g., a faulty fuze.|
Article: Mike Dakin, June 2000